Credit inquiries are something very few consumers fully understand. Let's take a look at some of the important characteristics of those inquiries:
- Inquiries only stay on your credit report for two years
- There are two types of inquiries, “hard” and “soft”
As a note, TransUnion will refer to “hard” inquiries as “regular” inquiries.
- Soft inquiries don't hurt your credit score
- Hard Inquiries are the result of you applying for credit (and often do cause your credit score to drop)
Soft inquiries can result from a number of companies and actions. If you order your credit report, that may show up as a soft inquiry. If a company with which you have a credit card checks your credit periodically to monitor your creditworthiness, that would also appear as a soft inquiry. The last major source of soft inquiries occurs when a prospective lender buys your information from a credit bureau for “promotional” purposes. For example, American Express may want to offer New York City residents a new credit card at a low interest rate, but only residents that have a credit score over 750 (or perhaps only to residents of an affluent zip code). If you fit the desired criteria, Equifax, Experian, and/or Transunion may sell your information to American Express, and this would show on your credit reports as a soft inquiry. When you receive mail from American Express (or any other creditor) telling you that you pre-qualify for a credit card or other loan, that is usually the product of a soft inquiry.
If a creditor obtains a consumer report about you because you applied for a credit card, auto loan, home mortgage, or other type of credit, that would appear as a hard inquiry.
- Not all credit bureaus report all inquiries
If you recently applied for a Bank of America credit card, you may find that it appears as a hard inquiry on your Experian credit report, but it does not appear on your Equifax or TransUnion credit reports. Inquiries are frequently inconsistent across credit bureau's reports. It is likely not a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act if a credit bureau fails to report an inquiry, but it most likely is a violation if the credit bureau reports an inquiry that you did not make. For example, if you've never applied for a Chase credit card, but you see that Equifax is reporting that a Chase hard inquiry on your Equifax credit report, that is likely a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.